Montgomery, Alabama: Explore its Civil Rights legacy, cultural attractions, restaurants and more

The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, a destination for history, culture and more.
The Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, a destination for history, culture and more. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Andrew Burton

From the outbreak of the Civil War through the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery has been the site of significant events in U.S. history. Today, the Alabama capital marks that legacy through museums and memorials, as well as offers cultural institutions and innovative restaurants for those coming to the Southern city during Black History Month and beyond.

Civil Rights connections

At the bus stop where she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat, the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University (closed Sundays, admission $7.50/ages 12 and up, $6.50/students, $5.50/ages 12 and under; 252 Montgomery St., 334-241-8615, troy.edu/rosaparks) commemorates the civil rights icon and seamstress and her defying act that would spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott. See a visual re-enactment of that moment along with exhibits of photos and artifacts relating to Parks’ arrest and the subsequent bus boycott.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also has strong ties to Montgomery. Go on a tour of the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church (454 Dexter Ave., 334-263-3970, dexterkingmemorial.org), an active parish and National Historic Landmark where the civil rights leader served as pastor from 1954 to 1960. The tour includes a visit to King’s office, where he conveyed plans for the boycott, along with the church’s interior. Also visit the Dexter Parsonage Museum (309 S. Jackson St.), the former residence of the church’s pastors, which reflects on the years when King and his family lived here.

Around the corner from the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, view the Civil Rights Memorial (400 Washington Ave.), an outdoor circular table that lists a chronology of events and individuals who lost their lives during the movement.

Located inside a former Greyhound bus station, the Freedom Rides Museum (closed Sundays, admission $5/adults, $4/students and seniors, $3/ages 6-18; 210 S. Court St., 334-414-8647, freedomridesmuseum.org) chronicles the 1961 Freedom Riders’ journeys by bus through the South to protest segregated bus terminals (Freedom Riders stopped at this station on May 20 of that year).

Cultural offerings

Honor two famous Montgomerians at their respective museums. At the Hank Williams Museum (admission $10/ages 15 and up, $3/ages 3-14; 118 Commerce St., 334-262-3600, thehankwilliamsmuseum.net), find displays of the late singer’s stage wardrobe, TV footage, photos, instruments and even the Cadillac he passed away in. (You can also pay your respects to Williams and his wife, Audrey, at their graves in Oakwood Annex Cemetery, a mile-and-a-half from the museum.) The Fitzgerald Museum (closed Mondays, $10/suggest admission; 919 Felder Ave., 334-264-4222, thefitzgeraldmuseum.org) was once a home of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their daughter, Frances. Along with her husband’s work, Montgomery native Zelda’s paintings, family photos and writings are on display.

The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (closed Mondays, admission FREE; 1 Museum Drive, 334-240-4333, mmfa.org) displays 18th- to 21st-century American works plus holds sub-Sahara African pieces and works on paper by Old Masters.

The Alabama Shakespeare Festival (1 Festival Dr., 334-271-5353, asf.net), a regional theater, not only presents works by the Bard but also stages classics, musicals, and children’s productions.

A dining enclave

Have biscuits for breakfast at Cahawba House (31 S. Court St., 334-356-1877, cahawbahouse.com). Filet & Vine (closed Sundays; 431 Cloverdale Rd., 334-262-8463, filetandvine.com) dishes out deli-style servings of Southern fixings with ample table seating. Started by a Greek immigrant more than 100 years ago, Chris’ Hot Dogs (closed Sundays; 138 Dexter Ave., 334-265-6850, chrishotdogs.com) keeps them coming with its hot dogs and chicken sandwiches.

For a more sit-down scene, try Central (closed Sundays; 129 Coosa St., 334-517-1155, central129coosa.com), an upscale American restaurant with a seasonal, local menu with mainstays like its pork belly “fries.” Vintage Year (closed Mondays; 405 Cloverdale Rd., 334-819-7215, vymgm.com) gets accolades for its prime meat and seafood dishes. At TASTE (5251 Hampstead High St., #100, 334-676-4333, tastemgm.com), tapas and flights of wine take center stage.

Notable museum and memorial openings for 2018

Two anticipated openings this spring will honor the victims of slavery and prejudice. On April 26, the Equal Justice Initiative will debut a new memorial and museum within a 15-minute walk of each other in downtown Montgomery. The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (417 Caroline St.) remembers the more than 4,000 victims of lynching; the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration (115 Coosa St.) will explore the impact of slavery and racial injustice. Combination tickets to both cost $10/adults, $7/students and seniors. For more information, visit museumandmemorial.eji.org.

Good to know

Getting there: Montgomery Regional Airport is serviced by American Airlines and Delta, with connecting flights from Atlanta, Dallas and Charlotte.

Getting around: A car would be helpful to travel to different areas, though the local bus system, the M, travels throughout the city. Uber and Lyft also serve the area.

Where to stay: Downtown Montgomery currently has four properties: a Renaissance (201 Tallapoosa St., 334-481-5000); Embassy Suites by Hilton (300 Tallapoosa St., 334-269-5055); Hampton by Hilton (100 Commerce St., 334-265-1010); and DoubleTree by Hilton (120 Madison Ave., 334-245-2320. For B&Bs, consider Red Bluff Cottage in the Cottage Hill neighborhood (551 Clay St., 334-264-0056) or The Lattice Inn in the Garden District (1414 S. Hull St., 334-263-1414).